Former Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung said Wednesday he thinks South Korea have less than a 50 percent chance of advancing past the group stage at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
South Korea are in Group F at the World Cup in Russia with Germany, Mexico and Sweden. Park, who will work as a commentator for local broadcaster SBS during the 2018 World Cup, said he thinks South Korea will have a tough World Cup against football powerhouses but that fans should not give up hope on the national team.
"At this moment, I think we have less than a 50 percent chance to get past the group stage," Park said at a press conference at SBS in Seoul. "But there have always been some upsets at the World Cup, and I know fans are also looking for those kinds of upsets this time. I believe the national team's performance can change depending on their preparations and fan support."
|Former South Korean football player Park Ji-sung, who will work as a commentator for local broadcaster SBS, speaks at a press conference in Seoul on May 16, 2018. (Yonhap)|
Park, who represented the country at three FIFA World Cups and scored at least one goal in each of the three tournaments, said South Korean players should enjoy football's showpiece event.
"The national team has been criticized since the World Cup qualifying round, so I believe the players still have some pressure," he said. "But participating in the World Cup itself is already a big advantage and joy for the players. I hope the players can show their performance at the World Cup."
Park, who hung up his boots in 2014, said the key point for South Korea is their ability to cope with "Plan B" after some core members were ruled out due to injuries. South Korean head coach Shin Tae-yong on Monday announced a preliminary 28-man squad, although he needs to cut five players before submitting his final roster of 23 players on June 4.
"I know that the national team coach had to change his original plan due to injured players, so it's important how he can utilize his Plan B," he said. "It's also important how the team can build up its defensive cohesion."
Park, who is the first South Korean to play in the English Premier League, said he has big expectations for Tottenham Hotspur Son Heung-min.
"Son has finishing skills, and it's not easy to find a player who can score like that against European teams," he said. "The teams that we meet at the World Cup are strong, so we're not going to have many scoring chances. But a player like Son who has good finishing skills can surely help this team."
Park, who also had stints with PSV Eindhoven and Queens Park Rangers, said Hellas Verona forward Lee Seung-woo, who was one of the surprise selections by Shin for the preliminary roster, will have a positive impact on the national team. The 20-year-old was selected for the senior national team for the first time.
"I think he can stimulate other players," he said. "I think if a 20-year-old player comes to the national team with confidence and trains with seniors, that positive energy will spread out to the entire team. He is also a player who has unique style of play."
As for Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong, who is considered a controversial pick for the preliminary roster since the 29-year-old midfielder has not been playing much with his EPL club, Park said it's up to Shin to decide whether he should take the player to the World Cup.
"There's no doubt on Lee's personal talent," he said. "I know people will have questions on Lee's selection, but I think that even if we select the final 23 members, not all of those players will feature in the World Cup games. Probably 17 players will actually play, and I think this is up to Shin and he needs to take responsibility for his decision."
Park also had a piece of advice for Swansea City midfielder Ki Sung-yueng, who is expected to wear the captain's armband for South Korea during the World Cup.
"What's important is that he needs to think about how other captains have done with the national team and absorb positive things from his experience," he said. "I think he just needs to learn from his own experience and do what's really good for the team. Ki already has lots of experiences as captain, so he'll find the way." (Yonhap)